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Hepatitis A is an inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by the Hepatitis A virus.

Most people who have Hepatitis A recover completely.  Once people recover, they are immune for life to Hepatitis A (i.e., their bodies produce antibodies which will protect them from re-infection).

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  • How it's spread

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    Hepatitis A is found in the feces (stool) of infected people.  The virus can be spread by sexual activity involving fecal/oral contact such as rimming (anal/oral sex), handling a used condom after anal sex, or fingering your partner’s anus and then putting your finger in your mouth.

    The virus can also be spread through exposure to contaminated food or water.  It can be passed by someone infected with the virus who has not washed their hands thoroughly after a bowel movement and then touches something you eat.

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  • What are the symptoms?

    30% of adults show no symptoms.  Symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite, severe fatigue, fever, and/or stomach upset.  Other symptoms may include dark urine, light-coloured stools, abdominal discomfort, and/or jaundice (yellowish skin or eyes).

    Symptoms usually appear 15 to 50 days after exposure (average 28 days).  People are infectious 2 weeks before symptoms appear and remain infectious until one week after the onset of jaundice.

  • How is it diagnosed?

    Hepatitis A is diagnosed through a blood test.  If you test positive for Hepatitis A, we will refer you to a family doctor for blood tests to evaluate liver function.  Follow-up blood tests are repeated to assess recovery.

  • What are the complications?

    Hepatitis A rarely causes serious illness.  Unlike Hepatitis B and C, there are no chronic carriers and no long-term consequences of having had Hepatitis A, except in rare cases where other factors may contribute to more serious liver problems.

  • How is it treated?

    Hepatitis A usually clears up on its own in 4-6 weeks and does not require treatment.  People with Hepatitis A should avoid alcohol, fatty foods, and any substances that are toxic to the liver, including acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol).  

  • What about my sexual partner(s)?

    If you have Hepatitis A, anyone you live with as well as any at-risk sexual contacts should receive the Hepatitis A vaccine.

  • Follow-up

    It may be suggested that you have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider until you have completely recovered from the infection.

  • Prevention

    There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A.  The vaccine is given in two doses six months apart.  All people at high risk for infection should consider receiving the vaccine, including close contacts of a person with hepatitis A infection, men who have sex with men, and injection and non-injection drug users.   This vaccine is also recommended for people with chronic liver disease (including hepatitis C), people infected with HIV, and people who travel to regions with inadequate sanitation.

    Other prevention measures include washing your hands carefully after bowel movements, after sex, before making food, and before eating, drinking or smoking.  Make sure genital and anal areas are clean before having sex.

    Hepatitis A vaccine side effects

    Most common

    Soreness and redness (mild and short-term) at the injection site

    Uncommon

    Fever, fatigue, headaches, and flu-like symptoms

    Rare

    The risk of developing a severe allergic reaction (hives, difficulty breathing, and/or swelling of the face or mouth) is extremely rare (less than 1 in 500,000).  It usually occurs within the first 15 minutes after the injection so you should remain in the clinic for 15 minutes after each dose of the vaccine.  If you have a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, you should not get the second vaccination.

     Note: there is no evidence that Hepatitis A vaccination causes any chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Guillain-Barre syndrome.

    Other forms of hepatitis
    We also have information about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.